“Music is a moral law. It gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, a charm to sadness, and life to everything. It is the essence of order, and leads to all that is good, just and beautiful, of which it is the invisible, but nevertheless dazzling, passionate, and eternal form.”

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Tchaikovsky Concerto: Small Point, Profound Result

Peter Tchaikovsky
     A student in the final stages of preparing the Tchaikovsky Concerto for performance pointed out certain passages that didn't feel right. He knows that such discomfort can be a red flag, so he asked, almost as an afterthought, about this measure, 46, in the second movement scherzo: 

Tchaikovsky Concerto, Second Movement, Bar 46.
(Click on the example to enlarge.)

     We had already discussed many passages in the concerto that presented much larger problems, all with satisfactory solutions, making this one little measure seem inconsequential. I had noticed a slight unevenness in his performance and had already made a note to ask him about it. But he brought it up first, for which he gets a gold star.

     Look at the example and see if you can figure out the problem. (I've given some clues in my notes.) When the 16ths begin on the 2nd eighth, the thumb quarter-note needs to be out, toward the torso, in order to accommodate the left hand. It also happens to be easier to play in that position. At the last eighth, though, the thumb plays a black key, C-sharp, requiring the hand to move in. I asked him to play the passage for me, and I observed a sudden lurch in (toward the fallboard) and his wrist made a slight twist toward the thumb side. Both of these gestures are uncomfortable, unnecessary
and the result was not only a bump in the technique, but in the sound as well. The solution is ridiculously simple: move the thumb in in advance by shaping a little up with the third finger on the G-sharp just before the final eighth of the measure. This made all the difference, both in sound and feel of this passage.
     So, dear friends, no problem is too silly to consider. Don't accept less than easy and fluid at the keyboard. Teach the fingers-hand-arm collaboration what it needs to know at the basest level and it will remember the lesson for more complex situations.

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